Extinct language

For the language extinction process, see Language death.
Eteocypriot writing, Amathous, Cyprus, 500 to 300 BC. Ashmolean Museum

An extinct language or dead language is a language that no longer has any speakers,[1] especially if it has no living descendants.

In the modern period, language death has typically resulted from the process of cultural assimilation leading to language shift, and the gradual abandonment of a native language in favour of a foreign lingua franca.

A language that currently has living native speakers is called a modern language. As of the 2000s, a total of roughly 7,000 natively spoken languages existed worldwide. Most of these are minor languages in danger of extinction; one estimate published in 2004 expected that some 90% of the currently spoken languages would have become extinct by 2050.[2]

Language death

Main article: Language death
Sisters Maxine Wildcat Barnett (left) and Josephine Wildcat Bigler; two of the final surviving elderly speakers of Yuchi, visiting their grandmother’s grave in a cemetery behind Pickett Chapel in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. According to the sisters, their grandmother had insisted that Yuchi be their native language.

Normally the transition from a spoken to an extinct language occurs when a language undergoes language death while being directly replaced by a different one. For example, some Native American languages were replaced by English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, or Dutch as a result of colonization.

In contrast to an extinct language, which no longer has any speakers, or any written use, a historical language may remain in use as a literary or liturgical language long after it ceases to be spoken natively. Such languages are sometimes also referred to as "dead languages", but more typically as classical language. The most prominent Western example of such a language is Latin, but comparable cases are found throughout world history due to the universal tendency to retain the historical stage of a language as liturgical language.

Historical languages with living descendants that have undergone significant language change may be considered "extinct", especially in cases where they did not leave a corpus of literature or liturgy that remained in widespread use, as is the case with e.g. Old English or Old High German (etc.) relative to their contemporary descendants, English and German (etc.).

Minor languages are endangered mostly due to economic and cultural globalization and development. With increasing economic integration on national and regional scales, people find it easier to communicate and conduct business in the dominant lingua francas of world commerce: English, Chinese, Spanish and French.[3]

In their study of contact-induced language change, American linguists Sarah Grey Thomason and Terrence Kaufman (1991) stated that in situations of cultural pressure (where populations must speak a dominant language), three linguistic outcomes may occur: first - and most commonly - a subordinate population may shift abruptly to the dominant language, leaving the native language to a sudden linguistic death. Second, the more gradual process of language death may occur over several generations. The third and most rare outcome is for the pressured group to maintain as much of its native language as possible, while borrowing elements of the dominant language's grammar (replacing all, or portions of, the grammar of the original language).[4]

Institutions such as the education system, as well as (often global) forms of media such as the Internet, television, and print media play a significant role in the process of language loss.[3] For example, immigrants may travel from one country to another, their children then attend school in the country, and the schools may teach them in the official language of the country rather than their native language.

Language revival

Main article: Language revival

Language revival is the attempt to re-introduce a recently-extinct language in everyday use by a new generation of native speakers. The optimistic neologism "sleeping beauty languages" has been used to express such a hope.[5]

Hebrew is an example of a liturgical language that has successfully been revived for everyday use. The revival of Hebrew has been largely successful due to extraordinarily favourable conditions, notably the creation of a nation state for which it was to become the official language. Revival attempts of minor languages with no status as liturgical language typically have more modest results. The Cornish language revival is an example of a major success for the revival of such a language, as after a century of effort there are 3,500 claimed native speakers, which has been sufficient to change the classification by UNESCO from "extinct" to "critically endangered".

Recently extinct languages

This is a list of languages reported as having become extinct after the year 2000. For a more complete list, see List of extinct languages.

Date Language Language family Region Terminal speakers / Notes
February 2016 Nuchatlaht dialect of Nuu-chah-nulth Wakashan British Columbia, Canada Alban Michael[6]
February 4, 2014 Klallam
Na’klallam, S’klallam
Salishan Washington, United States: northeast Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles. Hazel Sampson[7]
June 5, 2013 Livonian
Liv, Livõ kel
Uralic Latvia: Kurzeme, west of Kolkasrags, 12 coastal villages; Riga area dispersed. Grizelda Kristina[8]
October 2, 2012 Cromarty dialect of Scots
Black Isle dialect
Germanic Northern Scotland, United Kingdom Bobby Hogg [9]
October 24, 2010 Pazeh
Formosan languages Taiwan: West coast area, east of Tayal, Cholan area, Houli, Fengyuan, Tantzu, Taichung, Tungshih. Pan Jin-yu[10]
August 20, 2010 Cochin Indo-Portuguese Creole
Vypin Indo-Portuguese
Portuguese-based Creole southern India: a few Christian families on Vypeen Island (Vypin Island) in the city of Cochin (Kochi) in Kerala. William Rozario[10]
January 26, 2010 Aka-Bo
Andamanese Andaman Islands, India: east central coast of North Andaman island, North Reef island. Boa Sr.[11]
2009 Nyawaygi Pama–Nyungan Australia: Northeast Queensland, Herberton south to Herbert river headwaters, to Cashmere, at Ravenshoe, Millaa Millaa and Woodleigh, east to Tully Falls. Willie Seaton[12]
November 2009 Aka-Kora
Andamanese Andaman Islands, India: northeast and north central coasts of North Andaman Island, Smith Island. Boro[13]
by 2009 [14] Pataxó Hã-Ha-Hãe unclassified Brazil: Minas Gerais and Bahia states, Pôsto Paraguassu in Itabuna municipality. shifted to Portuguese.
January 21, 2008 Eyak
Na-Dene Alaska, United States: Copper river mouth. Marie Smith Jones
c.2008 (?) Bidyara
Bidjara, Bithara, Bitjara
Pama–Nyungan Queensland, Australia: between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers. 20 speakers found in 1981; effectively extinct by 2008
c.2006 (?) A-Pucikwar Andamanese Andaman Islands, India: Straight Island.

10 or fewer speakers found in 2006; was reportedly spoken by 8–10 of total population of 53 individuals on Strait Island.

2005 Osage Siouan Oklahoma, United States Lucille Roubedeaux
2003 Akkala Sami
Ahkkil, Babino, Babinsk
Uralic Kola Peninsula, Russia: Murmanskaya Oblast’, southwest Kola peninsula. Marja Sergina
May 2002 Gaagudju
Abdedal, Abiddul, Gaagudju, Kakadu, Kakakta, Kakdju, Kakdjuan
Arnhem Land languages Northern Territory, Australia: Oenpelli. Big Bill Neidjie
2000 Sowa Malayo-Polynesian Pentecost Island, Vanuatu Maurice Tabi
c.2000 Laua
Trans-New Guinea Papua New Guinea: Central Province, north and west of Laua. one speaker found in 1987
c.2000 Mesmes Semitic Ethiopia: YeDebub Biheroch Biherese na Hizboch State, Gurage, Hadiyya, and Kambaata zones. Last speaker was interviewed by language survey team, aged ~80. He had not spoken the language for 30 years.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Extinct languages.


  1. Lenore A. Grenoble, Lindsay J. Whaley, Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization, Cambridge University Press (2006) p.18
  2. "Study by language researcher, David Graddol". MSNBC. 2004-02-26. Retrieved 2012-03-22. Ian on Friday, January 16, 2009 61 comments (2009-01-16). "Research by Southwest University for Nationalities College of Liberal Arts". Chinasmack.com. Retrieved 2012-03-22.. Ethnologue records 7,358 living languages known,"Ethnologue". Ethnologue. Archived from the original on October 5, 2001. Retrieved 2012-03-22. but on 2015-05-20, Ethnologue reported only 7,102 known living languages; and on 2015-02-23, Ethnologue already reported only 7,097 known living languages.
  3. 1 2 Malone, Elizabeth (July 28, 2008). "Language and Linguistics: Endangered Language". National Science Foundation. Retrieved October 23, 2009.
  4. Thomason, Sarah Grey & Kaufman, Terrence. Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics, University of California Press (1991) p. 100.
  5. See pp. 57 & 60 in Ghil'ad Zuckermann's A New Vision for "Israeli Hebrew": Theoretical and Practical Implications of Analysing Israel's Main Language as a Semi-Engineered Semito-European Hybrid Language, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 5: 57–71 (2006). Dr Anna Goldsworthy on the Barngarla language reclamation, The Monthly, September 2014
  6. Jack Knox. "Jack Knox — A silenced tongue: the last Nuchatlaht speaker dies". Times Colonist.
  7. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/last-native-klallam-speaker-dies-in-port-angeles/2014/02/06/d8108c14-8f70-11e3-878e-d76656564a01_story.html
  8. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article3782596.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2013_06_05
  9. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2212466/Final-word-Scottish-Cromarty-dialect-silenced-forever-native-speaker-dies-aged-92.html
  10. 1 2 http://www.write2kill.in/critiques/people/376.html
  11. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8498534.stm
  12. https://books.google.com/books?id=L4zytHZWB4QC&pg=PA160
  13. Andamanese tribes, languages die, The Hindu
  14. http://archive.ethnologue.com/16/show_language.asp?code=pth


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External links

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